miércoles, 14 de noviembre de 2012

The unforeseen consequences of talking to strangers

I love my parents to bits and pieces, but in the 27 years we've known each other, I have received lots of useless recommendations from them. However, the single worst piece of advice my parents have ever given me is not to talk to strangers. 

True, there's a certain type of stranger that you should avoid altogether. As a child, the television taught me that those who hide candy and puppies in their van or those who claim to keep rollerblades in the back of their shop are probably not as cool to hang out with as they sound. As a grown up, this definition has expanded to include men who persistently invite you to go to their house while putting margaritas in your hands. But, despite what the TV says, the percentage of depraved sexual predators and cannibalistic serial killers in the population is quite low and statistically, you're more likely to be physically hurt by someone you know than by a stranger. So love thy unknown neighbour, damnit.

A couple of weekends ago, Marcel came to Nijmegen and stayed over at my place. I had met him once in New York, at a Couchsurfing meeting and we had e-mailed a couple of times ever since. We hitchhiked to Amsterdam on Saturday morning and we hitchhiked back in the evening. In other words, I totally dismissed the rules of common sense that my parents once injected into my education by having some dude (who doesn't even have a Facebook account) stay at my place for the weekend, a guy that I had met once in the company of some more random people from the internet. And then, we got into cars with people we didn't know (although, in all fairness they never claimed to have candies or puppies in the back of their cars), people who for no good reason were willing to take us to Amsterdam and then did the same thing on our way back, but this time with the added danger factor of total nighttime darkness. And then, as if that wasn't enough, we ate food from the garbage.

Marcel showed up on a Friday afternoon after a 25 km bicycle ride from Kleve. We caught up on what we had been busy doing over the past few months since the first and only time we'd seen each other before. For him, it involved a cross country bicycle and hitchhiking trip through the US and Canda. For me it was a couchsurfing trip through the US over the summer. We ate some food that Marcel had dumpsterdived, played the guitar and made our way to the city center. We went to the riverside so I could dip my hands in the Waal for the first time in my life and then had some hot chocolate.

We woke up early on Saturday so we could make it to Amsterdam and enjoy a full day there. We were on Graafseweg, on a secret hitchhiking spot on the outside of Nijmegen that we found on the internet by 9:30 and, by 9:32, we were in the back of a van on our way to Den Bosch with two guys, a set of tools, nails and a pile of wood. They were kind enough to go out of their way to drop us off at gas station on the highway to Utrecht and Amsterdam. There, we harassed some people we didn't know (and thus, became the creepy strangers), asking them if they were headed towards Utrecht and after 10 minutes, got our second ride to Utrecht, which ended up dropping us off in Amsterdam. They were a very nice couple who had never hitchhiked nor picked up hitchhikers but they were on their way to Almere (the Dutch mecca of tumbleweeds and crickets) and thought it would be fun to take us with them. They dropped us off at a place where we took a ferry to Amsterdam's central station and started walking from there. On our way back, a man took us from the outskirts of Amsterdam to Breukelen, from where a girl took us to the outskirts of Den Bosch, while recommending Ruigoord to us for trance parties and reggae festivals and finally I got to practice my broken Dutch with our last driver, who didn't speak much English. I managed to explain to him that we were headed to Nijmegen, but if he could drop us off in any train station we would be really happy. I then went on telling him what I believe was the story about how and where Marcel and I had met, what I was doing in the Netherlands and that I thought the Netherlands was a very cool country. I might have been telling him a fantastic story that made absolutely no sense about how we didn't know each other but had met that day in Amsterdam and decided to hitchhike from New York to Nijmegen, but it was dark and nobody wanted to pick us up anymore because I really like the Netherlands but I'm actually from Mexico. I'm not sure if I got all of my ideas across, but at least he dropped us off in the train station in Oss and gave answers to my macaroni stories that, to my mind, made some sense.

I could ramble about a lot of things for a long time because this post involved hitchhiking but also some echoes from Couchsurfing. When I created a profile on Couchsurfing at the beginning of this year, I did it because I was lonely and I didn't know many people in New York. With this in mind, I never could have imagined the impact it would have on my life, all the amazing strangers I was going to meet and who would become such good friends, all the interesting conversations held with people that I didn't know in a bar, on an emergency staircase at 4am or walking down a street that are still resonating in my head. 

It's been almost a year since I met my first friend ever from Couchsurfing for brunch. And it's been one of the richest years in my life, I have met so many wonderful and inspiring people, I have learned so many things and I have had so much fun. I am really grateful towards all the awesome strangers who did something nice for me, be it letting me sleep on their couch, sharing a meal with me or giving me a ride to Amsterdam. They didn't have to do it because they didn't know me but at the end of the day, I am grateful towards all these people that didn't need a reason to share their time with me and teach me something. My parents were wrong when they told me that tattoos and piercings are for criminals but they were even more wrong when they told me not to talk to strangers.

Playing on the swings in Amsterdam

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